Fans of TLC's Little People, Big World can't seem to get enough of Audrey and Jeremy Roloff. In addition filming their lives for the show, the couple has an active social media following, where they regularly share updates on their faith, their marriage, and their life as parents to their infant daughter, Ember. On a special two-hour episode of LPBW Monday, viewers got a chance to see Ember's birth, but many fans were pretty upset when Audrey Roloff said using baby formula was a "sin."
To be fair, Audrey was a freshly postpartum mom at the time, and if you've been there, you know it can be an intensely emotional time. But to some, the comment unfairly shamed formula-feeding, and unnecessarily reinforced the misguided belief that mothers should exclusively breastfeed no matter what. A rep for the Roloffs did not immediately respond to Romper's request for comment.
Even before Ember's birth, it seemed pretty clear that Audrey and Jeremy had pretty strong views about pregnancy and parenting, and in addition to her desire to exclusively breastfeed her daughter, she also planned to have a completely unmedicated birth, according to TLC. But though she did deliver Ember without an epidural (something she described on Instagram as "the hardest thing [she's] ever done"), her attempts at breastfeeding didn't quite go as planned. In the episode, Audrey explained she'd been struggling to feed Ember, and that her daughter hadn't been gaining weight, according to In Touch Weekly, though she hoped it was simply an issue of "[not having] feeding figured out yet."
When Ember's pediatrician recommended she supplement with formula though, the new mom wasn't pleased. As CafeMom reported, she said:
I was very adamant about breastfeeding exclusively. Formula is like a sin. I never thought I would do that, but at the same time I need to feed my baby so we have to do it.
Though Audrey seemed to receive a lot of love and support from her Instagram followers — particularly those who also had unmedicated births — there were many on social media who also felt her comments about formula had been totally out of line:
Others also took issue with Audrey's insistence on not having an epidural, or simply about her birth story in general:
There's certainly nothing wrong about wanting an unmedicated birth, or about wanting to breastfeed exclusively. In fact, because of the benefits to both mom and baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for at least a year. Yet the assumption that breastfeeding is normal or easy simply because it's "natural" is something that can cause many women who struggle to breastfeed to feel like they are failing, even though it's not at all uncommon for women to fall short of their breastfeeding goals.
A 2015 study in Pediatrics found, as Redbook reported, that although most mothers intend to breastfeed their newborns for at least three months (85 percent of them, to be specific), less than a third actually end up doing it for that long, in part due to initial breastfeeding obstacles, like issues with latching, or not knowing if their babies were getting enough milk.
Audrey, in fact, faced a number of other painful challenges when she was trying to breastfeed Ember. In an Instagram post written two weeks after her daughter's birth, she shared that she'd suffered from "severe engorgement, too much milk, not enough milk, blisters, bruises, clogged ducts, and mastitis," and that the pain of breastfeeding was "comparable to unmedicated labor contractions."
While, for many, that would have been more than enough reason to switch to formula-feeding (and really, why should any new mom have to go through that kind of pain if they don't have to?), Audrey wrote she she planned to "continue to pour [herself] out in sacrificial love for this baby girl who makes every hurt worth enduring." And it seems to have worked out the way she wanted it to: when Ember had a checkup at 6 months old, Audrey wrote that, even though she was told she'd "never be able to exclusively breastfed," Audrey was still feeding her daughter "pure mama milk," and that she was actually in the 90th percentile for weight.
In the same post though, Audrey did at least acknowledge that she now realized that breastfeeding is "not always a choice," which seems to suggest her opinion on formula-feeding may have shifted slightly. At the same time, it's important to consider that not being able to breastfeed because of some kind of medical issue isn't the only reason a mom might decide to use formula, and it also isn't any more valid. Just as Audrey decided that pushing through the pain was the right choice for her, women can have all sorts of reasons why continuing to breastfeed isn't right for them, and there's really no need to feel bad or guilty for making whatever choice helps make you a happier, healthier, mom and human.
Though it doesn't seem like Audrey was trying to offend anyone by saying that formula was a sin, it definitely reflected the kind of unnecessary pressure and expectation we place upon mothers. The fact that anyone might think they are less of a mother because they had an epidural, or a C-section, or that they didn't breastfeed is so unfortunate. And it seems way past time we all acknowledge that, while breast milk might be valuable, fed is what's really best for babies, regardless of how it happens.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.